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Posts from the ‘tanzania’ Category

Joining the great migration in the Serengeti

Day: 190

KLMS: 28,995

The Serengeti is a place i’ve dreamed of going, ever since I first saw David Attenborough’s documentaries when I was a little girl. To say I was excited about going is an understatement! We’d heard about the extortionate fees and bad roads, but nothing was going to stop us from going –how bad could it be? To access the Serengeti, you first need to go through the Ngorongoro crater Conservation Area – either $140 for the privilege of driving round the crater rim, or an additional $200 to go down into it. Facing a further fee of $220 per day to get into the Serengeti, we decided to just transit through and begrudgingly handed over the fee to just drive through. Having been completely spoilt with the parks further south, which are a fraction of the price, have great facilities, plenty of wildlife and fewer tourists the Ngorongoro experience was a far cry from this. We drove up to the lookout point, which although offering spectacular views of the crater, was completely mobbed with tourists and gave us very little for our $140!! We didn’t hang around for long and instead drove onto a picnic site, which although only showed a glimpse of the crater, we had the place to ourselves and had unspoilt visits from elephants, zebras and a huge black stork. Not to mention the thieving eagle which swooped down and stole my sandwich right of my hand. I didn’t even see him until the force of him knocked me backwards, scaring the living daylights out of me! I was left wing slapped and sandwich-less!

The view over the Ngorongoro crater

The view over the Ngorongoro crater

Black stork - they are huge!!

Black stork – they are huge!!

The drive onwards towards the Serengeti was one of the most spectacular sights we’ve ever seen. The dramatic mountains of the Nogorongoro opening up to the vast expanses of the Serengeti plains – it was just how I imagined it to be – the vast grassy plains stretching as far as the eye could see all underneath a bright blue sky filled with big white fluffy clouds. It was a vision. We also passed the many Masai who are allowed to graze their cattle here, their beautiful bright red cloaks stood out against the golden colour of the grasses. We pulled over at one point, to take a break from the road and as we cooled off under the shade of a nearby tree, a young Masai wondered over to also seek some respite from the burning sun. We all sat together under the tree, neither of us could speak the others language but we still managed to communicate, both just as intrigued with each other. Before we headed off, I asked if I could photograph him, which he agreed to very enthusiastically. As I showed him his photo on the screen, his face lit up and he asked me take more pictures. As a thank you, we offered him an apple, which he accepted but stood holding it a distance not sure what to do with it. He’d never seen an apple before. We gestured to him to just bite into it, which he did very cautiously, but as the sweetness hit his palette, he was soon munching into with gusto. It was a really special moment.

The view down onto the Serengeti

The view down onto the Serengeti

 

 

Our friendly Masai Warrior

Our friendly Masai Warrior

One thing they don’t mention on all those wonderful wildlife documentaries is how bad the roads are. The corrugations were the worst we’ve encountered and as we drove on into the Serengeti the vibrations were unbearable and the car began to shake itself to pieces. Having just paid the princely sum of $580 for the privilege of 2 days in the park, it was a very bitter pill to swallow and we tried hard not to let it ruin the experience, but unfortunately it did take the shine off things. Sure enough, a few hours later, both rear shocks had gone and we limped into Seronera area where a lovely guy from the hot air balloon company took us to their workshop. Whilst I was on look-out duty for lions Rich set to work re-installing the old shocks which fortunately we’d kept as emergency spares. We left the workshop later that night and enjoyed a rare opportunity to do our own night safari up towards our campsite – driving slowly with the full beams on and me hanging out the window scanning the Maglite into the bush to find lots of pairs of red glowing eyes. We got to camp late, which was probably a good thing as the facilities are pretty poor and its best to spend the least amount of time possible there. Considering camping fees are $60 a night, you’d at least expect clean ablutions with hot water, but of course that would require some of the millions of dollars the park makes every year actually being invested properly rather than I suspect being siphoned off for personal holidays, fast jets and cars!

Hart Beast on his look out post

Hart Beast on his look out post

Running zebras across the plains

Running zebras across the plains

We spent the next 2 days driving around the park, taking in the wonderful vistas. The plains were full of zebras, elephants, antelopes of all kinds, lots of hyenas and birds of every shape and size. We also saw plenty of kitty-kat action (literally) as the lions seemed to be far too focused on their intense mating schedule to even notice the line of cars parked next to them. After watching a huge male lion pin down his lucky lady for the fourth time, we decided to leave them to it and continued our journey only to find a leopard sleeping in the tree just round the corner. Our closest view of a leopard yet, it was stunning. We then headed onto the ‘western corridor’ where the zebras and wilderbeast were beginning to return from the Mara on their great migration south.

Big male lion

Big male lion

Getting down to it..again and again and again!

Getting down to it..again and again and again!

Beautiful leopard makes sleeping in a tree look so comfortable!

Beautiful leopard makes sleeping in a tree look so comfortable!

 

Gradually the numbers out on the plains began to grow and grow until the  plains were completely covered with them. Taking a side road to the Grumeti river, which when in full flood in June is one of the huge iconic wilderbeast river crossings, but even now with the water running low the wilderbeast still had to navigate past many huge crocodiles waiting for them in the shallows. As we drove along by the river, suddenly 1,000s of wilderbeast came charging past us – so we decided to  join them – driving slowly at the rear of the heard we became part of the great migration! It was wonderful!

Following the migration!

Following the migration!

The experience we had in the Serengeti, was definitely something we’ll never forget, it really is a magical place but the price of the park and the horrendous roads really did take the shine off things. It wasn’t just our complaint either, the road was littered with broken Landrovers and Toyotas – we even had to rescue one! (Yes, a Mitsubishi towing a Toyota!) and everyone we met in the campsites were having to spend time fixing things on their cars. We would definitely recommend taking a tour or leaving your car outside the park!

But here we are now, just outside Mwanza on Lake Victoria, in a fabulous place called Tunza beach lodge, where we are recovering from the Serengeti and getting the car fixed. The first day we were here, it was a public holiday (Muslim festival) so the lodge was extremely busy but It was amazing to see such a mixture of religions and races, all playing and celebrating together, regardless of whether they were Muslim or not. We met a lot of lovely people and with our camp right on the edge of the volleyball court we became a key attraction – everyone slightly bemused by our mobile house. That night we turned our roof lights on and played football and handball with the kids on the beach, finishing up with a disco at the car. The children were really keen to hear western music and so we put the ipod blaring out over the car speakers so everyone could dance. The next day the owner Jan, sorted us out with his mechanic and he showed us that the vibrations from the corrugations had caused one of the pipes in the engines to wear a hole through the radiator! The radiator had to be removed and taken away to be re-patched, but the whole thing was completed in a day! So fully fixed once more, it’s now time to head onto Rwanda!

 

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Jambo! We made it to Tanzania

Day: 183

KLMS: 27,935

Once more we were astounded by the change, as we crossed the imaginary line into Tanzania. Gone are the gentle sounds of the donkeys, the cow bells and the squeaking from un-oiled bicycles, everything on this side of the border seems to have an engine and it’s loud, fast and chaotic!  Driving up into the southern highlands, the peaks were enveloped in thick cloud and at certain points the fog was so thick we could barely see the car of Rui and Jean in front. But as we began the descent into the valley below, we came out of the clouds and in front of us opened up the most beautiful green and luscious landscape filled with banana, coffee, cotton and tea plantations. It was absolutely stunning, the colours suddenly so much more vibrant than the previous countries. Our first stop was at a Coffee plantation, Utengule Lodge just outside Mbeya. Unfortunately it sounds a lot better than it was, as the lodge was not really interested in campers when its main clientele were business people arriving by helicopter to stay in its exclusive chalets. It was fine for one night though and the next day we headed in Mbeya to stock up on supplies and find sim cards etc. We had also awoken to a flat tyre, so needed to visit a garage to get it fixed. Considering we only wanted to get a few things, it took 4hours!! Fortunately the tyre didn’t have a puncture, just some dirt on the bead so once cleaned up and re-inflated we were good to go. We were glad to be out of Mbeya, but the drive up towards Dar Es Salaam was one of the craziest drives yet. We’d heard about the appalling Tanzanian bus drivers but seeing really was believing. The buses thrash along the roads, well over the speed limit, overtaking on blind corners, up hills and sometimes overtaking an already overtaking car so that there are 3, sometimes 4 vehicles across a 2 lane road.  We also witnessed the legendary ‘sling shot’ overtaking manoeuvre where the first car pulls out to overtake and other cars pull out behind it, in the blind faith that the first guy has properly checked the road ahead or if he hasn’t, to use him as a shield. It is no surprise that car accidents kill more people than malaria in this part of the world!

crazy Tanzanian traffic

Crazy Tanzanian traffic

Traffic!!!

Traffic!!!

Refreshment stop - love the food on long sticks to reach the windows

Refreshment stop – love the food on long sticks to reach the windows

We also encountered the corrupt Tanzanian police a number of times, but if you’re able to laugh off their bullsh*t and treat it as a game, it can actually be quite fun. The first rule when stopped is to ask a question first. The distraction technique is incredibly effective as long as you can keep the questions firing at them first. We find pulling out the Swahili phrase book also throws their attention while they try and understand the gobble-de-gook you’re trying to say. The second rule, is that if they do insist that you were speeding and need to pay a fine, pull out an empty ‘stunt wallet’ and show that you have no cash. The officers realising that they are not going to get any money will then persist with requests for soda, cigarettes or biscuits, when we replied NO, they finally gave up and let us go. This has happened 3 times now and each time we have successfully gotten away without paying a fine or a bribe. Every village has a 50km/hr speed limit and the police are everywhere – never mind the suicidal bus drivers or the overloaded lorries, let’s just focus on the Muzungos!!!

Fortunately there is a fantastic little oasis on this crazy road, called Kisolanza, or the old farm house where we could camp and recover from the driving ordeal. We enjoyed a fantastic couple of ‘down days’ at the farm with Rui and Jean, as well as bumping into other overlanders Arno & Elize who we’d also be following. Nicki, the current owner, runs a very tight ship and we enjoyed one of the most fantastic meals at the farm restaurant which uses all its home grown produce from the farm and we indulged in fresh vegetables, meat and freshly baked bread and cakes. The quality of the meat has been getting more and more dubious so it was great to be able to enjoy some properly reared beef. We made sure to stock up on meat and vegetables before we left!

We said goodbye to Rui & Jean as they were heading onto Dar Es Salam and Zanzibar and we were heading north. Unfortunately, the additional time and money we’ve spent further south means we now need to be a little more disciplined and get a move on if we’re to be home by Christmas. Sadly we can’t see everything! So we headed to the coast just above Dar, to an amazing beach lodge called Peponi, just south of Tanga. It was amazing to reach the eastern coast, knowing that we’d now driven the width of the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. The weather is incredibly hot and humid on this side, very much like Queensland but the water is a sweltering 27 °C! Taking a dip in the sea, was like being in a warm bath! We set up camp on the beach and had a couple of relaxing days watching the fisherman, swimming in the sea and seeing some of the most spectacular sunrises over the ocean.

Beach camp at Peponi
Beach camp at Peponi
Loved these little critters at Peponi

Loved these little critters at Peponi

Dhow at sunrise from Peponi beach

Dhow at sunrise from Peponi beach

From there it was north to Moshi which sits at the foot of Kilimanjaro to meet up with Taleah and Wynand who were travelling down to Cape Town from London. We arrived the day before them so decided to go to nearby Lake Chala, a deep crater lake which at 3,000m in some parts is one of the deepest in Africa. It was a blazing hot day and during our walk down to the lake we met a guide who was bringing some students to the lake for the first time. He asked us if we wanted to also see the nearby Meteorite crater which was only 10minutes walk away so we agreed. Never believe a Tanzanian when they say 10minutes! The short stroll turned into an hour and a half of Africa bush walking up the riverbeds and across the plains – we were still in our flip flops and with no water or sunscreen we felt very ill-prepared for our jaunt through the prickly and snake filled bush! Rich blew a flip-flop half way along, so the walk took even longer, while he had to try and fashion together a strap with his belt to hold his flip-flop on! We made it to the crater and from there could see the base of Kilimanjaro – at 5800m, it’s the highest freestanding mountain in Africa, but sadly she never revealed more than her bottom to us as the rest of the mountain remained covered in cloud. As we walked back, the clouds had begun to build and we could see a storm rolling in across the plains. We made a dash for it back to the car, hoping to leave before the rain started. We were too late. The heavens opened and once more the dusty top layer on the clay packed road became a slippery muddy mess. Rich struggled to keep the car on the road, sliding off into the side gullies a couple of times – we became very close to getting stranded once again as a very steep muddy hill became impossible to get up. Bizarrely enough, we also happened to right outside a school again, it felt like groundhog day and we began to think that we would be camping in a school again. But with some skilful driving, Rich managed to use the side gullies to help ricochet us up the slippery slope. My knuckles were white from hanging on, but it was such a relief to make it back onto the tarmac!

The view over Lake Chala - that's Kenya on the otherside!

The view over Lake Chala – that’s Kenya on the otherside!

Bush walk with the pink ladies

Bush walk with the pink ladies

Improvised thong strap!

Improvised thong strap!

Looking down into the meteorite crater, thats Kili in the distance

Looking down into the meteorite crater, thats Kili in the distance

Wet and muddy we headed into Moshi, the driving rain continued and we were so thankful when we arrived at the Honey Badger camp to be told that the campsite was full and we’d need to take a room! Hot showers, flushing toilet and a big bed – luxury! We had a very boozy night with our new buddies (batterc2cpoint.wordpress.com) both excitedly swapping stories about the ‘otherside’. We were particularly keen to hear about their adventures shipping into Israel and driving down through Egypt, as they’d driven through at the height of the chaos. Fortunately it sounds as though there is an easy route through as long as you avoid the main towns and cities and they whizzed through in 3 days. It could be a plan! With plenty of notes and recommendations we said our goodbyes the next day and headed off in opposite directions – it was time to hit the Serengeti!

Team shot with Taleah, Wynand and their Zeb mobile

Team shot with Taleah, Wynand and their Zeb mobile

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